Pat Robertson gives mixed messages

June 28, 2011

I’m confused here. I thought God was supposed to be destroying the world anyway . And isn’t that supposed to be the great happy ending to Robertson’s fairytale belief? Why is he now suggesting it’s a bad thing?


June 28, 2011
Martians shot1

Asantaism is a religion

A commenter recently posted a link to an interesting article about science that I actually think is mostly pretty good. One of the things that briefly comes up is the common canard that atheism is a religion, in a section with the headline, “Atheism is a religion, too!”

My problem with it is that it conflates what’s called “hard atheists” with “soft atheists” and as a result, creates a straw man argument against anyone who identifies under the term “atheist.” No prominent atheist figure I’m familiar with legitimately holds the absolutist position that they know for certain that “there is no Designer.”

And while I may be guilty of occasionally making off the cuff remarks that might give some the impression that that’s the position I hold, it certainly does not describe my actual position. And I find really annoying the fact that I have to constantly clarify this silly semantic point when nobody ever similarly accuses people who say there is no Santa Claus of being too dogmatically certain.

The author points to several quotes cited by creationists to justify the argument:

An advocate for Intelligent Design provided the following quotes from leading evolutionary biologists:

  • “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind” (George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution);
  • “If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species” (Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature);
  • “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous” (Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology).

These are not scientific conclusions. These are statements of sincere personal belief by these authors, who doubtless feel strongly that their beliefs are consistent with their experiences as scientists. But they are essentially statements of faith, and they are out of place in a textbook.

The author goes on to acknowledge that two of the books mentioned are not textbooks but rather are opinion pieces, while the only one that is a textbook, Futuyma’s book, leaves out that quote in the current edition.

But there’s a bigger point here I’d like to make. Merely pointing to arguably audacious quotes that could, in their least charitable interpretation, be interpreted as implying the quoter holds an absolute certainty doesn’t actually prove that they do hold such absolute certainty. For instance, just because George Washington may have once said, “I cannot tell a lie,” doesn’t really mean that he truly believed he literally could not tell a lie, nor would any reasonable person assume such an interpretation. Sometimes public speakers use language that suggests greater confidence than they really hold. This is especially obvious in this age of media punditry. So what? To build an entire point around assuming people are as certain of things as they come off in their rhetoric is silly.

Sure, you can find some random atheists on the internet who will insist on the hard atheist definition of the term but random people on the internet are not legitimate representatives for all atheists; no one is. If the definition you apply to a label does not include all who apply the label, the problem is with your rigid definition, not with those who have adopted that label but don’t fit into your definition.

The fact is that the atheist position I hold, which I covered in my very first article, is simply that no compelling evidence currently exists to support the existence of any gods. That position cannot reasonably be confused for a religion because it neither comes with any dogma, nor is it immune to evidence. Show me compelling evidence for any deity’s existence and I’ll happily change my mind on the subject. Otherwise, you’ve given me no reason to change my position and therefore it would be unreasonable to accuse me of being immune to sufficient evidence. Scientifically speaking, if I’ve never been presented with such evidence, how could you possibly know I would refuse to accept it if it was presented?

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Commitment to vocabulary sanctity is not a virtue

June 25, 2011

One of my sister’s Facebook friends had a very interesting response to her status applauding the New York Senate’s  decision to legalize gay marriage. He opposed the decision, not on any moral or religious grounds, but purely on the grounds that it changes the definition of a word.

Now normally I might remove names to protect the innocent, as they say on Filmspotting. But since bigotry is a sensitive subject for me, I’m feeling  in an LT. Aldo Raine kind of mood and so I don’t care if people know his name.

So after my brother commented that religion is the primary motivation in opposing same-sex marriage and  there really is no sane reason why anyone should be against allowing other people to marry, here’s what Mr. Leonard Wilder said:

Sure there is a sane reason, and it’s not based on religion. No where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a man and woman, irr…espective of religion, class or wealth. This definition was as firm as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Now, all of a sudden, because of political jockeying , I am now being told by the government that our way of thinking is wrong and that marriage also includes the union of same sex couples. If same sex couples wish to live together, etc that is their business. I see no reason why the government has to put the title of “marriage” to that arrangement. The definition remained unchanged for thousands of years and should remain as such. With that said, we will have to agree to disagree.

To which I responded thusly:

And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but a property agreement for exclusive sexual access to the woman until about 200 years ago. And no where in the written recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of marriage was anything but the union of a white man and white woman or black man and black woman until the 20th century. You don’t know what you’re talking about and the fact that you value traditional definitions of words over civil rights and human happiness says little of your character. The U.S. Constitution defines black Americans as 3/5 of a white American. You think we should maintain that definition too? And nowhere in the recorded history of any western or European based society will you find that the definition of “web” was anything other than the thing that spiders make until the birth of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s. I guess we can’t allow that either. I’m sorry you have such a problem with the fact that the English language evolves over time. I suggest you stick to Latin then because the English language will continue to change without your personal consent whether you like it or not.
Then came Leonard Wilder’s rebuttal:
I did not know that Perez Hilton was “in the house”. Good thing I’m not running for Miss USA! Oh wait, I cannot; I’m a guy. I would not be allowed to chase that dream so maybe I should mount a constitutional challenge or better yet, contribute to the campaign of those NY Senators who were forced to vote against their conscience. Whatever the rationale, the two of you have inadvertently proved my point: for whatever reason the marriage was entered into (political, financial, religious or love) , MARRIAGE has been the union of one man and …one woman (excepting polygomy). Now I agree that the role of race, especially in the US determined who can marry who. However, the fundamental definition of marriage always remained the same. Now various states are calling the union of same sex couples a marriage. That is a sham. Let me ask, if the NY Legislature passed a resolution that said the moon Landing never occurred should I believe them? Of course not. In addition I do not look at this as a civil rights issue. I’m not advocating taking away human rights. If homosexuals wish to enter into formal arrangements, legal or otherwise that is their business. I’m just not sure why such an arrangement needs to be called a marriage.
So how did I respond to this load of total bullshit?
Let’s see. There’s false analogies, red herring arguments, non-sequiturs. The whole package. Not a single analogy you made even comes close to resembling the actual thing you’re criticizing. Broadening a term to expand a civil right to a marginalized class is not even in the same ball park as denying a historical event. They’re nothing alike and your arguments are as incoherent as saying that if Chewbacca came from Endor, gay marriage must be morally wrong. To call your comparisons apples and oranges would be the understatement of the eon. It’s more like comparing apples and neutrons.If you have a serious objection to marriage equality, I’m open to hearing it. But if all you’re going to do is try to mask bigoted insecurities with preposterously childish justifications like valuing vocabulary sanctity over human prosperity, you make it impossible for me to take you seriously. This nation was founded on notion that everyone…EVERYONE has a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not on the principle of maintaining the purity of the master race of words. As I’ve already explained (and by all means fact-check me to your heart’s content), the definition of marriage you embrace is not much older than the one that includes unions of same-sex couples…which incidentally was added to the Merriam Websters Dictionary almost a decade ago. Further, it doesn’t take someone like myself who has actually studied the history of language and media to recognize the frequency in which the modern languages grow and change over time. Hell, this month alone, the Oxford English Dictionary added almost 2,000 new or revised entries.

Honestly, did you throw this much of a hissy fit when they they added the word, “D’oh” to the dictionary, spitting in the face of centuries of bakery tradition, or is your righteous indignation merely reserved for those cases where those words lead to real world public policies that benefit classes of people you personally dislike?

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New York sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage

June 25, 2011

In a 33-29 decision, the New York State Senate voted to legalize marriage equality in Albany tonight with the help of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who introduced the measure. This makes New York the sixth and most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage.

This means that same-sex weddings can start taking place in New York as early as thirty days from now. The biggest holdup on the Senate vote concerned the demand to change the language to firmly establish that any religious institution has the right to refuse to officiate at such ceremonies. This proved to be a no-brainer not even worth fighting about but once those provisions were added, they had all but one promised vote to pass the bill. That last vote ultimately came from Stephen Saland, who after killing an enormous amount of time yammering on and on on the senate floor, finally agreed as a “matter of conscience” to vote in favor of marriage equality…cause up till now he somehow managed to remain the last man on Earth to be undecided on this issue. “I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality and that equality includes within the definition of marriage,” Republican Senator Stephen Saland said. He was one of four Republicans to vote for the legislation.

Even the Westboro Baptist Church expressed their support via Twitter. Megan Phelps tweeted: “@NYSenate @BarackObama This nation is cursed & w/o hope. Give them fag marriage so USA can finish destruction-sprint. God’s done w you!”

Congratulations New York!

News From Around The Blogosphere 6.23.11

June 24, 2011

1. Introducing the solar-kini – A designer has created a bikini with embedded solar panels that can charge your mobile technology while your sunbathe.

2. Granite State skeptics hand out psychic bingo cards to John Edward’s audience

The cards had a five-by-five grid of vague “hot words” and scenarios that often come up in cold reading, a term used to describe how it’s possible to elicit information from people without their knowing it.

Mentalist Mark Edward also weighed in on this story here.

3. Hundreds of Mormon ads appear in NYC – Maybe this is just a really elaborate campaign to promote the Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, but something tells me not a single one of these ads mentions the Mormon home planet of Kolob. Maybe if Mormons were a little more honest about their beliefs and practices, more would trust them more and they wouldn’t need the improve their image. And if you’re embarrassed by your own beliefs, maybe you should change your beliefs. Just a thought.

4. Self-help guru James Arthur Ray convicted in sweat lodge deaths – He was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his followers during a botched sweat lodge ceremony.

5. More proof that reality TV is not real – I’ve worked in reality TV, so I don’t need convincing. But for those who aren’t convinced yet, the opening to “MasterChef” featuring a crowd of allegedly thousands of applicants has been exposed as a clumsy Photoshop job that just pastes the same groups of people multiple times.

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Miss USA contestants on teaching evolution

June 23, 2011

The Miss USA pageant was held this past weekend, and one of the questions put to the contestants was whether they thought evolution should be taught in schools:

Actually, there’s at least a fifty percent chance that that was a clip from a GOP presidential candidate Q&A. Regardless however, it demonstrates a mind-boggling poor education on the part of the young contestants as well as the pageant committee themselves, considering there’s no debate over whether scientific facts should be taught in science classrooms.

Now some bloggers have been overjoyed that one of the few contestants who could be said to have actually supported the teaching of evolution in her answer, Miss California Alyssa Campanella ended up winning the pageant. I find this position overly optimistic given how poor even her answer was:

Well, I was taught evolution in my high school growing up, and I do believe in it. I mean, I’m a huge science geek, so I like to believe in, like, the Big Bang Theory and, you know, the evolution of humans, you know, throughout, you know, time.

While certainly one of the better answers, that doesn’t say much. Even this answer is asinine. Evolution and the Big Bang aren’t ideas one just decides to believe; they’re facts. I don’t “like to believe” in gravity; I simply recognize that gravity is an undeniable fact.

And while nobody really takes the idea seriously that the women who win these pageants are “role models,” I resent any organization that would attempt to present such woefully uneducated as role models for anyone. Not a single woman in this pageant is intellectually qualified to be a role model for anyone. The one legitimately positive thing I’ll say about the winner, Alyssa Campanella , is that she endorses the No on Prop 8 campaign, a welcome change from two years ago when former Miss California Carrie Prejean made headlines when she expressed her disapproval of marriage equality:

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YouTube atheist wins Daytime Emmy

June 22, 2011

Scott Clifton, aka YouTube user TheoreticalBullshit, just won a Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Younger Actor for his role of Liam Cooper on The Bold and the Beautiful:

Clifton, or TheoreticalBullshit, isn’t just any YouTuber but one of my personal favorite YouTube atheists. He creates incredibly thought out videos such this one:

And this one:

But I bet I know two people who aren’t happy about Clifton’s Emmy, Christan apologists Matt Slick and William Lane Craig, both of whom proved no match against him in a battle of wits:

Anyway, congratulations to Scott. I wish him great success in his career.

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The civility debate continues

June 21, 2011
Bill O'Reilly

Persuasive pundit

I’ve written a lot about what has commonly been called the “New Atheism vs. Accommodationism” debate. The skeptical movement equivalent seems to be the “Don’t be a dick” debate, named after a talk Phil Plait delivered at The Amazing Meeting last year.

Well, Daniel Loxton has posted an article tracking  the history of one side of that debate, which has stirred a big comment debate over at Skepticblog. The article as well as the comments have inspired me to once again jump into the discussion.

So here are my thoughts on the matter.

I’m really finding this debate rather tedious and unproductive at this point. Every movement seems to develop this dichotomy over civility vs. firebrandism. Both sides here have thoroughly laid out their positions and both sides feel their position is being straw-manned by the other. They talk past each other and no one seems to be particularly persuaded by the other side.

I see clear benefits to both sides operating simultaneously, particularly if they can play nice with each other and not go out of their way to publicly attack the other side, forcing a public response from that side. I think we all agree the key audience we’re trying to reach are the fence-sitters, and it’s quite clear that different fence-sitters respond to different approaches. Some audiences will respond to politeness while others will see it as disingenuous and be turned off. Meanwhile, some will respond to ridicule and flippancy within the framework of a precise and careful rebuttal. Something tells me Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck aren’t persuasive because of their amazing ability to keep a civil, un-dismissive tone. Some audiences will just respond better to blunt, unapologetic refutations, especially if they’re built on solid arguments, while others won’t.

I think those who sit squarely on one side or the other and aren’t willing to adapt their approach based on the particular situation they’re in need to wake up and realize that there is no one magic bullet that explains all of human psychology. The available data, as little as there is, seems to show that both methods have worked in the past, so I see no reason why anyone can maintain the view that either is completely ineffective.

There’s also a wide range being ignored by this dick/not a dick false dichotomy. As someone said in the comments section: “Currently, skepticism as a movement is full of firebrands but has no noteworthy public ‘dicks.’ The closest would be Penn Jillette, primarily because his chosen medium (TV show) doesn’t allow for a rigorous discussion of proof.” The term “dick” demands clarification. It can’t reasonably be applied to just any use of confrontational or deliberately provocative approaches.

Will some people refuse to acknowledge diversity among skeptics and try to paint everyone as “angry atheists”? Probably. But they’ll do that anyway and the idea that everyone must constantly conform to one particular model in order to trick people into thinking there is no diversity among skeptics and that we’re all equally civil is absurd. Every important social movement has faced such stereotyping and they managed to survive it, so I don’t really worry about it. It’s very hard to maintain such a stereotype when there are skeptics and atheists getting news for their charitable works. Nobody has to be saddled with the Hitchens/Myers reputation if they don’t want to be. It’ll be okay.

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Weird facts about placebos

June 16, 2011

Insane Troll Logic 6.13.11

June 13, 2011

Uh oh! It seems I’ve pissed off the Shakespeare Deniers, the least ridiculous form of denialism of them all. I considered putting out an all Shakespeare Denialism edition of my Insane Troll Logic series two weeks ago but so many trolls showed up all of a sudden on my one and only piece referencing that particular form of woo that it’s better I just link to that entry so those who are interested can read through the full comments section themselves and enjoy them in all their glory.

But this entry in the series will just focus on my most recent comment from commenter Smith on my ever-unpopular troll-attracting piece on Quantum Jumping:

It is mind boggling how pathetic you haters sound out there. The guy is NOT (i repeat for you morons out there, NOT) trying to rip anyone off, he states himself that this method is not a scientific breakthrough, and that he looks upon it himself as a placebo effect in itself.

This is a form of meditation that COULD work but only if you allow your brain to really focus. Admittedly, it is unfair to label this as tapping into alternate realities, because while those may exist, we will need more than placebo effects to tap into them. However, this does nothing to rip the people off. It is not the guy’s fault if some people are stupid enough to buy the cd and not believe in the stuff they are doing. It is the person behind the meditation that has the power to focus.

Now, i am not going to attempt to pretend that alternate realities is the foundation of this meditation (every product has a silver lining of bullshit), but in a way, it could be useful if you let it relax your mind. What most people need is relaxation and the motivation these days. If you go look at most successful people, you will find their childhoods filled with the fighting of evil forces that try to pin down their hopes and eradicate their self motivation, but they push it back.

This is not meant for laughter, those of you who stupidly criticize this product truly have no significant value of self worth, you are people who demand spoon feeding, people who wait for something to do the work for them. It will not kill you if you tried to meditate and used your brain to achieve success rather than come online and bitch about placebo effects when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

But for the morons out there, the placebo effect is a powerful one indeed, and if scientists told you that a device had been invented and it would tap into alternate realities, and they strapped it onto your head, you would never realize it was made of plastic. If you truly believe in something, there is a way to make it happen.

Anyone who labels this a scam or a piece of undignified crap, needs a reality check. Your poor judgement’s often reflect your own flaws, and weaknesses. You make excuses like (some people bought this crap). But it is not money that is the issue, as we all know, we can get this stuff for free if we need it. You just refuse to believe flat out in self meditation. The joke is on the poor bastards who come here and try to sound smart in any significant way.

This is nothing new, every product you buy (including the laptop you used to write down your bullshit), has some lie to it. But in the world of quantum physics, you have no lie or truth, because as of today, nothing has been proven completely. Either use it for benefits, or stop humiliating yourselves.

It’s mind-blowing how many people will so passionately defend an unambiguous scam, especially one that you claim the scam artist freely admits is a scam. That’s what attributing results to the placebo effect means. It’s a subtle way of avoiding responsibility to actually deliver promised results using a term that most laypeople don’t understand. And nowhere on at least the main page of his website does he mention the placebo effect. What he DOES do on the first page is reference at least a dozen of the greatest scientific minds in history and try to suggest their findings somehow validate his pseudo-scientific claims when they most certainly do not by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.

“This is a form of meditation that COULD work but only if you allow your brain to really focus.”
Again, no it can’t. He’s not saying this is all in your head as you imagine a fictional conversation with a fictional alternate version of yourself. He’s literally claiming “thought transference” with a literal version of yourself from a literal alternate dimension.

Bert’s website goes on to say:
“Quantum Theory suggests that our physical reality is nothing but a very elaborate mirage. A super-hologram of information and energy. A Matrix.”
Quantum Theory says no such thing and The Matrix is a FICTIONAL movie. I’ve seen Keanu Reeves in person. He can’t really dodge bullets. That was just a movie.

“It is not the guy’s fault if some people are stupid enough to buy the cd and not believe in the stuff they are doing. ”
Actually, it is his fault for charging people for a service he knows he can’t possibly provide and deliberately deceiving people by exploiting scientific ignorance. This is a criminal offense known as fraud. I have no problem with people meditating to lower their blood pressure or just to relax; meditation is free. What Burt is selling is not simple meditation but a pseudo-scientific scam.

“you are people who demand spoon feeding, people who wait for something to do the work for them.”
No, we’re people who demand companies comply with fair business practices and don’t cheat their customers. I fail to see how any thinking person could interpret that as unreasonable.

“It will not kill you if you tried to meditate and used your brain to achieve success rather than come online and bitch about placebo effects when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. ”
Fortunately, our criminal system doesn’t demand that victims actually die before justice and appropriate remedies can be served. Not so fortunate, however, for guys like Bernard Madoff and Burt.

“If you truly believe in something, there is a way to make it happen.”
This is called delusion. It’s not a good thing.

“Anyone who labels this a scam or a piece of undignified crap, needs a reality check. ”
Oh, do tell.

“But it is not money that is the issue, as we all know, we can get this stuff for free if we need it. ”
Oh, well as long as Burt’s only stealing a little money for his bullshit services, that’s okay. You must have attended one hell of a good law school.

“You just refuse to believe flat out in self meditation. ”
Um, no. I’m actually a fan of meditation. What I’m much less of a fan of is assholes who exploit scientific ignorance to scam the public and those who shamelessly defend them.

“This is nothing new, every product you buy (including the laptop you used to write down your bullshit), has some lie to it.”
This is called the tu quoque fallacy. Just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t make it okay. I also categorically reject your false equivalence between what might be tiny lies and big honking nonsense piled on top of a foundation of total bullshit that contributes to the overall scientific ignorance of the public.

“But in the world of quantum physics, you have no lie or truth, because as of today, nothing has been proven completely.”
Quantum physics–you keep using those words; I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

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